The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will undergo a month-long comprehensive review and assessment, a first step in modernizing its systems and processes and transforming it for the future, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the agency.
The move follows a relentless barrage of criticism of the agency’s handling of the pandemic in recent months. The review will be led by Jim Macrae, who served as Acting Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration for two years and has held other senior positions in the federal Department of Health and Human Services, including the CDC is part of it. Mr. Macrae will begin his mission on April 11.
“The lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the feedback I have received inside and outside the agency over the past year, indicate that it is time to take action. back and strategically position the CDC to support the future of public health,” Dr. Walensky said in an email to agency employees.
Three senior CDC officials — the acting senior deputy director, Dr. Deb Houry; Chief Operating Officer Robin Bailey; and Chief of Staff Sherri Berger — will gather feedback on the agency’s structure and “solicit suggestions for strategic change,” Dr. Walensky said.
At the end of what she described as a “collective effort,” the agency will develop new systems and have a plan for how the agency should be structured. The email was first reported by The Washington Post.
A CDC spokesperson said the agency had worked to speed up data reporting and scientific processes over the past year, but more needed to be done, including finding “new ways to adapt the structure of the agency to the evolution of the environment”.
Dr Walensky said the review would focus on the agency’s core capabilities: public health workforce, data modernization, laboratory capacity, health equity, rapid responses to outbreaks and preparation, both in the United States and around the world.
“Over the past year, I have heard from many of you that you would like to see the CDC build on its rich history and modernize for the world around us,” Dr. Walensky said in his E-mail. Thanking her employees, she said, “I am grateful for your efforts to support you in the hard work of transforming CDC for the better.”
The CDC has long been revered for its methodical, science-based approach to improving public health around the world. Scientists outside the United States have been trained by agency experts, and its standards have been adopted and emulated around the world.
But the agency’s infrastructure has been neglected for decades, like the country’s public health system in general, and the pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges. Early on, the CDC made key mistakes in testing and surveillance — for example, the notoriously clumsy design of a diagnostic kit sent to state labs.
Officials were slow to recommend masking, in part because agency scientists did not quickly recognize that the virus was airborne. In May last year, Dr Walensky announced that vaccinated people could remove their masks indoors and outdoors; a few weeks later, it became clear that vaccinated people could not only contract breakthrough infections, but also transmit the virus.
In August, Dr. Walensky joined President Biden in supporting booster shots for all Americans, before scientists at the Food and Drug Administration or his own agency reviewed the data to see if they were needed.
More recently, the highly contagious variant of Omicron has led the CDC to issue recommendations based on what would once have been considered insufficient evidence, amid growing public concern about how these guidelines affect health. economy and education.
In December, the CDC shortened the isolation period for infected Americans to five days, although it appears that many infected people can transmit the virus for longer. In recent weeks, some experts have criticized the agency for changing the metrics used to assess risk and determine appropriate local action, in order to appease commercial and political interests.
Supporters of Dr. Walensky say the agency has been given an extraordinary task and that the CDC is doing its best under extremely difficult circumstances — including that most employees are working remotely.
In a separate statement released Monday, Dr. Walensky said that “never in its 75-year history has the CDC had to make decisions so quickly, based on often limited science, in real-time and evolving”.
When asked at a press conference on Tuesday if the call for the review came from the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki said that was not the case and that he was motivated by the CDC, calling it “definitely the one we support.”